‘Bad Boys’ Will Smith, Martin Lawrence are still ‘Ride or Die’ in rousing new film!

Over three decades of “Bad Boys” movies, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have traded many a zinger and racked up endless property damage with their buddy-cop exploits. And yet they still find fresh ways to make the franchise sing, like weaving in themes of death and mortality with giant hungry alligators and gunfights that rain down jelly beans.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” (★★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters Friday), the fourth installment of Smith and Lawrence’s action-comedy series, certainly doesn’t let up on the explosive, crowd-pleasing antics. But directors Adill El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, returning from 2020’s “Bad Boys for Life,” successfully evolve Miami cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) by having them confront their middle-aged vulnerabilities as inadvertent outlaws in an increasingly over-the-top tale.

And if you’ve been a “Bad Boys” fan since the original 1995 Michael Bay film, “Ride or Die” pays off plot threads from previous flicks while catching audiences up with Mike and Marcus’ latest life changes. In the new movie, Marcus suffers a heart attack at Mike’s wedding, and the aftermath shows a flip in their usual dynamic: Marcus gains perspective and a newfound sense of immortality, while Mike begins to suffer panic attacks when he realizes how his job puts loved ones in danger.

They just need to figure their stuff out on the run. When their dearly departed boss Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) is accused of corruption and linked with drug cartels, Mike and Marcus make it their mission to clear his name with the help of the man who killed him: Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio), revealed in the last film as Mike’s son. The detectives discover a deep conspiracy at foot, are framed for murder by a villainous ex-intelligence operative (Eric Dane) and wind up fugitives alongside Armando with a $5 million bounty on their heads.

“Ride or Die” packs in a ton of exposition, subplots, extended action sequences, character moments and cameos (from Tiffany Haddish to DJ Khaled) in less than two hours. Although efficiency is welcome in today’s age of the bloated run time, bits and pieces narratively fall into place sometimes too easily − though honestly, who comes to a “Bad Boys” movie looking for story logic?

It does deliver on the mayhem front: El Arbi and Fallah craft a nifty airborne spectacle where Mike and Marcus fight goons and G-forces to escape a crashing helicopter, an appetizer for a flaming car chase through Miami and a wild bullet-ridden affair at an abandoned amusement park. And Smith and Lawrence’s chemistry is as infectious as ever, yet they thankfully don’t even try to be the same guys they were in ’95.

The bickering is still there, as is the fist-bumping swagger, but the stars bring more of a relatable groundedness to Mike and Marcus. When not dealing with angry rednecks or backstabbing exotic dancers, Mike tries to keep Marcus from eating Skittles for his health, and Marcus has to slap Mike to snap him back into reality in a bad situation. (That scene, given Smith’s 2022 Oscars incident with Chris Rock, feels both too soon and knowingly pretty funny.) Interestingly, neither of the main men factor into the movie’s most rousing sequence − that centers on Reggie (Dennis McDonald), who was introduced as a mousy teen in 2003’s “Bad Boys II” but shows his mettle here as Marcus’ Marine son-in-law.

While many Hollywood franchises are flailing, “Bad Boys” instead enjoys a renewed relevance thanks to revved-up emotional stakes and a couple of old favorites still at the top of their game.

Source: USA Today